Book Review - The McDougall Program for Maximum Weight Loss


At this point, I have read a fair amount of books on the whole foods plant-based diet, including John A. McDougall's most famous book, The Starch Solution. I've also read books written by T. Colin Campbell, Chef AJ, High Carb Hannah, Rip Esselstyn, and Douglas N. Graham. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to learn a whole lot of new information from The McDougall Program for Maximum Weight Loss, especially since The Starch Solution is typically heralded as McDougall's best book. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was completely wrong—this book has a lot to offer, even for the most nutritionally-educated among us!

Starting out in the beginning of the book, McDougall makes it clear that this is not an all-or-nothing program. Obviously, the more strictly one adheres to the program's advice, the more weight will be lost. But since change is a process and takes a considerable amount of time, he advises that we pat ourselves on our backs for every healthy choice we make, and use our lapses as learning experiences. I especially liked his dedication at the beginning of the book: "To those who suffer needlessly in order to look great." I can definitely relate to that sentiment!

McDougall assures the reader that "The desire to appreciate your body and make it beautiful is one of the most natural and wonderful urges in life." However, "even more fundamental is the urge to eat, which, after all, keeps us alive." These natural instincts may seem to be at odds with one another, but McDougall asserts that they can work together to produce a beautiful-looking body at a healthy weight. In his opinion, the cultural view that they are in opposition with one another is simply a delusion that happens to also be self-destructive. Without the strong desire to eat, we might give up food for some other activity, which would result in malnourishment and possibly even death by starvation. The strength of our hunger drive is necessary for our survival as individuals as well as the survival of our species. Hunger has driven many people to perform great acts of courage as well as also ghastly acts of barbarism. In other words— the hungrier we become, the more likely we are to lose control of our actions. It's time to stop blaming overweight and obese people for their hunger drives, because hunger is completely normal and necessary for survival.

Contrary to popular belief, our bodies mainly crave carbohydrates, not fat or protein. In fact, the secret to satiation is carbohydrate consumption. And that doesn't apply just to full-grown adults—it includes children as well! McDougall states, "Even in childhood, the nutrient our bodies need more than any other is carbohydrate. Adults need approximately 35 times more carbohydrates for energy than we need protein for growth, and 800 times more carbohydrate than fat." McDougall goes into great detail in Chapter Three about the benefits of carbohydrates on our health. The rest of the book covers several various topics, including how the fat you eat is the fat you wear, the importance of fiber (which is only found in plants) in the diet, the role that insulin plays in promoting obesity, what constitutes the "Maximum Weight Loss Program", the physiological reasons that women lose weight slower than men, the (small) role that exercise plays in weight loss, the effects that alcohol and coffee have on weight (and overall health), how sleep deprivation can be beneficial, and shopping and food preparation. The book ends with a lot of tasty recipes for people who need some meal planning inspiration.

Overall, this is one of the best books on the whole foods plant-based diet that I have read, if not the absolute best. I would definitely recommend reading this over McDougall's The Starch Solution, even though I would recommend reading that one as well. The McDougall Program for Maximum Weight Loss goes into more detail and may be a better fit for people who are specifically looking for information to help them lose weight. I definitely recommend reading this one if you get a chance. It's relatively old (originally published in 1994), so it may even be available at your local library for free!

5/5 stars. 334 pages.

Book Review - The Starch Solution


I'm not able to recall exactly when or where I first heard about Dr. John McDougall's book The Starch Solution, but it was either from a manager at my local Whole Foods Market, a documentary film, or a vegan YouTuber. Regardless of what my first introduction to the book actually was, I can honestly say that this is the most accessible book on the whole foods plant-based diet that I have read thus far.

The book is similar to Dr. T. Colin Campbell's book The China Study in that the first sections of the book cover the scientific data that supports a (high-carb low-fat) whole foods plant-based diet, and a later section explains how to put that knowledge into practice. However, The Starch Solution has an extra trick up its sleeve—the last section includes a large selection of yummy recipes, similar to Rip Esselstyn's book The Engine 2 Diet.

So what exactly makes this book the most accessible of those that I have read so far? Well, The China Study was a bit thick on the science for an average reader and The Engine 2 Diet is geared mainly toward men. However, The Starch Solution is easy to read for the average person, being light on the scientific findings and featuring inspiring testimonials throughout, and it remains gender-neutral in its approach. This is not to say that the other two books are impossible to read or "not for women", but I believe that The Starch Solution is a better fit for most people.

The material is essentially the same across all of these books, though. They all advocate for a whole foods plant-based diet that eliminates (or at least reduces) items like meat, dairy, eggs, processed foods (including vegetable oils), caffeine, and alcohol. This stands in the face of much of the dietary advice that is proposed by the mainstream, which advises people to eat whatever they like, but with smaller portions (or "moderation"). Or when "experts" try to place the blame on salt and sugar (there is an entire chapter in this book debunking this claim, with scientific evidence). We can see that the mainstream advice hasn't been working for the majority of people, at least not for the long term. People seem to seek out any advice that will encourage them to eat a low-carb high-fat diet, but in all reality that just makes them gain weight and/or get sick. It's high time for a global dietary revolution, and The Starch Solution is an excellent guidebook to help that occur.

The first section of the book discusses the benefits of starch and our relationship with it, the five major poisons found in animal "foods", the politics of nutrition education and the USDA's role in it, and the environmental impact of the Standard American Diet (SAD). The second section of the book is an FAQ that covers the questions that friends and family might ask if one switches to a starch-based diet, such as "Where do you get your protein and/or calcium?", the dangers of eating fish, the concept of "the fat vegan", the harms of supplementation (McDougall advises vegans to only supplement with Vitamin B12), and why salt and sugar have become the scapegoats of the Western diet (even though they are not inherently unhealthy). The third and final section of the book gives some advice for putting the information into practice, and includes a collection of recipes to try out.

Among the things that I learned from the book were that processed soy foods far more unhealthy than I once thought they were. (As a reminder, just because something is technically "vegan" does not mean that it is healthy!) In addition to that fact, I was fascinated by the long and healthy relationship that humans have had with starches in our history. This book (along with other books I have read and research I have done) has solidified further for me the true benefits and ease of eating a whole foods plant-based diet. I highly recommend reading this one, and I'm looking forward to learning more from Dr. McDougall (and others spreading the same message) in the future.

5/5 stars. 348 pages.